Boxes (case histories)


Sra. Ojeda (24) occupies a room in a rooming house in the entrance to barrio La Isla. "I was born in Basail [a small town 80 km due south], and I came to Resistencia in 1984. I came to live with my aunt to study the secondary school, because my mother always wanted me to study. The primary [school], I did it in Basail. Soon, I had to begin working because my aunt got hill and we didn't have money even for food. I quit the school and I started working with a family as cleaning maid." She only completed second year of highschool. In 1990, she got pregnant and married a friend she knew from her aunt's barrio. Once divorced from her husband, she found herself "in the street" with two small children (2 and 4 years old). She is a tenant in La Isla since three moths ago. "The boys go to a day care center on Sabin Av., two blocks round the corner. I make a living working with a family three times a week." The house consists of six rooms in a row arranged in 'U' fashion. There are three big and three small rooms with two shared bathrooms. Two of the rooms are unfinished (the rear ones) and two are empty. Walls are of exposed hollow bricks; floors are of cement. Corrugated iron sheets on metallic beams constitute the roof. Openings are metallic painted with anti-rust paint. Sra. Ojeda found her room by a sign offering 'room to let' when walking around the area. "The room has a small gas stove and the bathroom is shared, but it's O.K. For my room, one of the smallest, I pay $70 a month; for the larger rooms rent is $90." She has a good relationship with the owner of the house: "family Fierro, that live near the virgin image two blocks away across Sabin Av." She did not sign any kind of contract with them. The main advantage is flexibility with the payments: "I personally bring the rent once a month to family Fierro. If I can't pay, they understand and try to help me." Sra. Ojeda likes the barrio; "its quiet" she said. However, as lack of a steady job is turning her room unaffordable, she would prefer to move if she finds something cheaper.


Carlos (21) rents a small room with shared bathroom in Sra. Gomez's rooming house. He was born in Machagai in the interior of the province. He came to Resistencia in 1994, and to this place three months ago. Carlos, who is a teacher at a nearby school and studies at the Technical University found the place by an ad in the newspaper. "The main advantage is location; my work is only 25 blocks away." For his 2.80x3.00 room with cement floor and galvanized sheet roof without ceiling, he pays $ 85.00 per month. "The room was empty; I brought the stove and the refrigerator. Rent includes water which I get from the tap in the bathroom, but as it doesn't include electricity, we have a shared meter with other renters." He didn't sign any contract, "although I know, Sra. Gomez signs contracts with some renters." He never had any problem with his present landlady or with other renters, however, he reports problems with a previous landlord in the same area. "He was a difficult guy. He didn't allow my friends to visit me because they were noisy people. I was so fed up, that I decided to move out of there." He is satisfied with his present lodging and with the neighborhood.


Sr. Gallardo (24) lives with his spouse and four children (six months to five years old) in a back apartment with direct access from the street. Sr. Gallardo's parents who live in the main part of the house with a single brother, came to Villa Itatí in 1967 when the villa was going through its initial transformations. In 1984 after completing the payments his father obtained the legal title the plot. Sr. Gallardo works in the Jail Service. His father also used to work at the jail as a plumber, but now he is retired. Both his wife and his mother are housewives. The main house was built by the family with the aid of cousins, uncles and friends. The new apartment completed in 1990 was built almost entirely by Sr. Gallardo and his father. He shows proudly the brickwork he did completely by himself. Sr. Gallardo likes the neighborhood, "I have lived all my life here, I grew up in these streets." He is satisfied with his current house, although he recognizes they may need more space in the future: "for now, the house it's O.K., but when children grow up we will need something bigger."


Sra. Erminda Ríos occupies a room in Villa Itatí. She came to the neighborhood 38 years ago when she was four. "At the beginning we lived in a casilla [shack] at the corner," remembers Erminda. Although being one of the first settlers, they do not have any kind of title or permission. The house accommodates three recognizable family groups: Erminda and her 4 children in the front room (4x4), her brother with his wife and a small daughter in the middle room, and her father Juan in the back room. The two front rooms are made of bricks, have corrugated iron sheet roofs, and have earth floors. The back room, the original core, is made of corrugated iron sheet, recycled cardboard and pieces of wood, mounted on a precarious wooden structure. Five or six years ago, Sra Ríos built the front room. She got help from a bricklayer who built the room for free. In the front of the house, a stand pipe for water serves as cooking and washing place. The house has no electricity, but Sra. Ríos has completed the installation and built the pillar for the meter. "I'm waiting for some money to connect electricity," she said. The condition of the three dwellings is precarious. Sra. Ríos works occasionally as cleaning maid. Sr. Ríos is retired. His pension is the only regular income for the three households. To reduce the expenses, they share meals.


The house of Sra. Agusto in Villa Itatí has the quality of what people call a casa de material (literally a house of material). It has three bedrooms, a living-dinning room, and a baño instalado (bathroom with sink). The kitchen is located on the rear, and have no direct connection with the other rooms. Access is through a galería (verandah), and a small enclosed yard. As usual in vernacular housing in the region, the galería is the core of the house. Foundations and walls are made of bricks layered with mud. Most of them are plastered on both inner and outer faces. The plaster shows the aging through numerous cracks and patches that tells the plaster was done little by little. The water-based paint is still visible where it has not been dyed by the sun or darkened by heavy rain. Drainage is precarious as in most houses in the neighborhood. In front of all doors giving to the outside small brick ledges block the water. Having a roof of corrugated iron sheets not visible from the street, the house presents a very simple box-like shape. Despite its ordinary appearance the house is the pride of Sra. Agusto.


The room of Sra. Villamayor , a tenant in Sr. Smith's rooming house depicts the conditions of some of the rentals in Villa Ercilia. Her room is the fourth in a row of six precarious rooms connected by a galería. It has two enchorizado walls, consisting of mud and straw, and two of exposed bricks layered with mud. Floors are of swept earth inside the room, and of bricks in the verandah. Trunks of palm and timber poles disposed at irregular distances and some brick walls bear fragile timber beams. Bricks, concrete blocks and rusted heavy metal pieces keep in place the roof of rusted tin sheets. Openings consist of just a hole in the wall with an irregular wood frame. The room has no door; only a curtain gives some intimacy to the room. The verandah is the space that fosters the bulk of daily activities. There she and her children stay majority of the day. "When it is not so cold we even cook in the galería," she said. There are two precarious roofless latrines, and only one water tap shared by landlord and four tenants.


Sr. Villalba, the owner-landlord of a rooming house in Villa Ercilia lives in a house that shows its owners enjoy a higher living standard than their neighbors. The Villalbas who have two children aged 16 and 14, acquired their plot with a small mejora in 1974. In 1979 they built a 4.5 by 4 room in the front to open a lotto agency. Then, as their income rose, they started building the main house in the back of the plot. In 1987 they decided to invest in rental rooms. After continued effort and careful planning, they opened their rooming house consisting of 18 rooms with shared bathrooms in 1993. "My business is totally legal," says Sr. Villalba showing his municipal receipt. The rooms are located on top of the main house and on both sides of the central corridor. They are of reasonably good quality, however they are far from complying municipal regulations related to natural light and ventilation. Rooms are furnished with a bed, a cupboard, a small table and a small electric fan. Bathrooms have hot shower, a feature quite rare in similar rentals in the neighborhood. There is a common dinning-room, with a furnace stove for tenants. "Now, 12 rooms are occupied" says Sr. Villalba. He selects renters carefully; his method is simple but effective: "I observe their behavior during the first month." Although contracts are verbal, Sr. Villaba give his tenants a receipt for the month. "Security is no problem," he said, "among my renters are policemen who contribute to give security to the place." Some rentals extend for a year or two, but most of them are only for two or three months. Sr. Villalba is reluctant to tell how much is the rental rate for his rooms; finally, he concedes, prices range between $ 90 and $ 100.


The front of the house has an ad offering "back apartment for rent." Sr. Sánchez, the owner, is a house painter presently unemployed. "When I came to the neighborhood, 22 years ago, there was nothing here; the place was so low that we had to fill it with earth and garbage," he recalls. Six people live in the house: Sr. Sánchez, two daughters, two sons and a grand daughter from his older daughter. "I'm offering the apartment because it's empty since my daughter and her husband moved to a new house" says Sr. Sánchez who sells recycled devices, also advertised in the front of the house. He explains, "the situation is so hard that I'm trying to rent to get some money for food. I ask 100 pesos per month for a room with kitchen and bathroom." Built in a narrow plot, both the main house and the apartment have brick-walls and corrugated iron sheet roof. Sr. Sánchez built them by himself: "Little by little, I started building the main house. As there was no place to buy cement or bricks, I had to bring them from the center on my bicycle. For the apartment, my son-in-law helped me a little, but most of the work I did it myself." Although he does not have the legal title, Sr. Sánchez is eager to become a 'real' owner: "six years I paid to the municipality for the land." Sr. Sánchez likes the neighborhood: "nowhere else we could find a more convenient place," he said.


Family Maldonado have a brick dwelling on the waterfront of barrio La Isla. In 1975 after buying a mud mejora existing in this place, they started building their permanent house. They have two daughters with mental disabilities who require much care and attention; the younger (3), has Dawn syndrome and the older (16), has maturity retardation. As her husband works all day as a policeman, Sra Maldonado is in charged of house keeping and takes care of the girls. To help her with her daily chores, they hired a young woman, Rita (16) who at the moment of the interview was playing with the children in the patio. Instead of paying her in cash, they give her food and free accommodation. For Rita, this is just a temporary solution, but at least it gives her a shelter, and the possibility to complete school. For the family, is the only chance of getting the help they need, without spending their limited resources. The house that has plastered brick walls, iron sheet roof and brick floors, shows signs of several additions overtime. At the back fragments of the original mejora are still visible. As Sr. Maldonado had neither the skills nor the time to build the house, they had to hire some bricklayers among neighbors and relatives; "we helped them buying, and carrying building materials. As we were 'on the penny' we bought cement and sand wherever we had credit facilities. Bricks, we bought from the local brick makers in the island" he said. If they were to sell the house they would not ask less than $ 5,000. But for now, they do not think of selling, they are happy with the barrio and perceive it has improved lately.


The sign drawn with chalk near the entrance advertises "rooms to let furnished." The house looks as one of the poorest of the block. The man is about 70 or 75 years old. Before we can ask any question, he warns: "I don't pay any taxes or whatsoever. I'm retired; I 've never paid anything to live here, and I will never pay; I only pay water and electricity, did you know that?" When Don Smith, the owner-landlord, arrived in 1955, this place was still rural. "There was nothing here, no water, nothing, only farms. I had to build a pool over there, for the people to drink" he says pointing out a spot at the corner. "The little river, the Araza, was still functioning. Now they have filled it up. There were no streets. People carved the land with plow and mules making a little trench, and those were the streets." Don Smith had several occupations in his life: "I worked for ten years at Herrera library. I also worked at the municipality. Once, I tried to study law, but I couldn't stand it because I can't lie. I prefer being a poet than being a crow." The main house is a detached two-story building with unfinished brick walls, concrete slab and corrugated iron sheet roof. On ground floor lives Don Smith, on the first floor there are two rooms with shared bathroom for rent. Born in Buenos Aires Sr. Smith came with his parents in 1927. In 1947 when he came to Resistencia from Campo Largo (interior of the province), his first lodging was a rancho in Villa Itatí. "I had a grocery" he remembers. In 1955 he came to this area and settled in a rancho nearby. Two years later he started building his actual house. He decided to build rooms to rent when he realized he was aging and had no coverage: "I was getting older, and I said, someday I will need something to make a living. As I don't want to be maintained I thought, why not small rooms to let? After all, the government could never provide housing for all." Don Smith built his house and the rental rooms all by himself. "I'm also a constructor" he says. "I make everything. Do you know how to make a right angle? The right angle is the most important thing in the house." He has seven rooms to let; two are on top of the main house; the rest are organized around an earth patio. Some are very precarious: mud walls, earth floors and iron sheet roof are the most common building materials. Renters share two roof-less pit latrines, one near the main house, and one at the back of the plot. "Now only four rooms are occupied. Some renters come from the bus station; I have friends there that tell the families about my rooms. They say: go and see the viejo he will give you a cheap bed and a mate." Sr. Smith asks "only $ 4 or $ 5 for two days." For rooms on a monthly basis he asks $ 70 including water and electricity. Renters share the only water tap in the house with the landlord. They usually don't stay long. Don Smith only makes verbal contracts. "I don't have problems with people," he said. At the gate of his house, he improvises another poem for us.


Sr. Ruiz Díaz is a landlord in Villa Itatí. Born in Cacui, a small town near Resistencia, he came to Villa Itatí in 1960. "When we came to the barrio there was nothing here." His description agrees with many other old settlers: "The place was a jungle of houses and footpaths. Before the allotment, I used to live at the corner; then, they gave me this plot." He recalls: "Water and electricity, came to the barrio about 1970. At the begging, the installation was precarious. Later, we did the proper connections." First, he built a small room with cardboard sheet roof in the front of the plot; he used the backyard to grow vegetables and chickens. Later, he used this space to build the main house and the rentals. Sr. Ruiz Díaz claims he was "the first person in the neighborhood to build a house of material (built of permanent materials). The ground floor has four rental units; upstairs there are two units for the family. In the main one live Sr. Ruiz Díaz and his wife; in the other lives their only son, his wife and three small children (three, five, and seven). Sr. Ruiz Díaz is a bricklayer. "I built everything, little by little; the columns, the walls; everything by myself." Occasionally he hired some workers. Some times his son helped him. He built the apartments with renting in mind and rents helped him to continue building. "When I have all the people, I have four renters." Now that he has more time, he concentrates in the details. "The house doesn't have a single crack; it still needs many finishes, but little by little I go on completing the details." Sr. Ruiz Díaz also does the sanitary installations and electrical wiring. He bought most building materials from the shops located on Chaco Av., less than two blocks away. He never used recycled materials; "only new things," he said. He still works as bricklayer when he gets jobs from time to time. Sr. Ruiz Díaz carefully selects his renters. "I prefer renters with a regular employment, with not too many children and that, above all, are quiet. But sometimes it takes time to rent the apartments, for example now, it is very hard to find renters." Rents, between $190 and $180, are a substantial part of his income. "They help me to pay taxes; you know, I want to get the title of the plot, so I must be on time with the taxes," he said. Rentals not only allowed him to pay expenses, they also financed the finishing of the main house. "I started little by little. With the rents, I 've always tried to buy building materials." At the beginning he used to make contracts on paper, but now he prefers to do it verbally. He has never had problems with renters, "all good people," he said. Sr. Ruiz Díaz likes the neighborhood and is very proud of his house.


The Gonzalez occupy a plot in Villa Ercilia without any form of permission. Sr. Gonzalez recounts: "we came to the barrio more than 30 years ago. The first thing we did was start filling the river all around." In total 15 persons inhabit the compound of precarious detached units: in a precarious shack made of recycled iron sheets and wood, Sr. Eraclio, his wife and four small children; in a mud and straw rancho, his older daughter, his husband and five small children (one to five), and in another iron sheet shack, another daughter with two children. Sr. Eraclio is unemployed. He does not have any sort of income. Although he is 58 he seems 20 years older. "I have had two surgical interventions due to a kidney disease," said Sr. Gonzalez who also does not have any health coverage. His daughter is trying to get the legal title of the plot. She had started building her "solid" house, but she has run out of money. The new house is for the moment, a 1.2 m high brick shell built around the mud rancho. Eventually it will become the 'material house' of Sr. Gonzalez's daughter. The three family groups share meals as a way to diminish their expenses. They do not have electricity, "light has been cut because we didn't pay." They bring water from a house across the street to a stand pipe located on the corner of the plot.


The Ramirez occupy a plot in Villa Ercilia since 1966. "There was nothing here; just the 'lagoons' which neighbors filled up to build their houses," says Sra. Ramirez. (What she calls 'lagoons,' is nothing but the Araza stream, one of the scarce drainage reservoirs of the city). Initially they bought a mejora, "a small mud rancho," as the core of their house. Albeit a span of more than 20 years, they do not have the legal title of the plot, but Sra Ramirez says, "we still have hope that soon the municipality will give us the land." She works as cleaning maid three days a week. Her husband is unemployed. In total nine persons inhabit the place. Sr. and Sra Ramirez, and two of their sons sleep in the front room. Their older daughter, her husband and three children, sleep in a detached brick room. The two households share the dinning-room which they use also to cook. Sr. Ramirez built the house by himself. To build the detached room he had the aid of his son in law. Although made of bricks, the house is very precarious, and does not have signs of recent improvements. Floors are of earth, and roofs are of corrugated iron sheets. They have electricity, but no water connection. They obtain water through a water tap shared with three neighbors at the back of the plot. Sra. Ramirez likes the neighborhood. Although they have had the opportunity to move to another place, they decided to stay. The main problem she perceives in their housing situation is the lack of proper water connection.

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